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Lurulu
Jack Vance
Tor, 204 pages

Lurulu
Jack Vance
John Holbrook Vance was born in 1916. Over a career spanning many decades, he has garnered many honours. They include the Edgar Award in 1960, the Hugo Award in 1963 and 1967, the Nebula Award in 1966, the Jupiter Award in 1975, the Achievement Award in 1984, the GilgamXs Award in 1988, the World Fantasy Award in 1990, and the Grand Master Award in 1997. He has used many pseudonyms including Alan Wade, Peter Held, John Holbrook and John van See. Jack Vance's original manuscripts for several of his books are kept at Boston University's main library in the manuscripts department.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Dragon Masters
SF Site Review: Lyonesse II: The Green Pearl and Madouc
SF Site Review: Lyonesse: Suldrun's Garden
SF Site Review: Night Lamp
SF Site Review: Tales of the Dying Earth
SF Site Review: Big Planet
SF Site Review: Emphyrio
SF Site Review: Ports of Call
Jack Vance Tribute Site
Jack Vance Tribute Site
Jack Vance Retrospective

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Matthew Hughes

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Time and again we are told, those of us who set out to write genre fiction, that what our readers crave is story: a beginning, a middle and an end bound together by a sinewy plot that ties up all the loose bits and pieces, following an arc of character development as clear to the eye as a jet plane's contrail across a cloudless sky.

Well, maybe so. But what's a rule without exceptions? And this year's prime exception to the above dictum must be Jack Vance's Lurulu. The tale is a continuation of 1997's Ports of Call wherein began the interstellar peregrinations of Myron Tany. He is a young man of independent disposition whose Wodehousian aunt, Dame Hester Lajoie, left him stranded on a far planet of the Gaean Reach after he sought to come between her and an oily adventurer who so obviously meant to separate her from her wealth and her private space yacht, the Glodwyn.

An enterprising sort, Myron soon found himself a berth on a tramp freighter, the Glicca, captained by the resourceful Adair Maloof and fully laden with a crew and passengers drawn from the grand Vancean repertory company of loquacious rogues, philosophers, pilgrims, dreamers and waifs. And off they all went in search of individual destinies and the ineffable quality called lurulu: "a special word from the language of myth," says Captain Maloof. "It is as much of a mystery to me now as when I first yearned for something which seemed forever lost. But one day I shall glance over my shoulder and there it will be, wondering why I had not come sooner."

In the new book, the search continues in a desultory manner. The Glicca wanders from planet to planet, taking on and discharging cargoes, while the crew visits taverns to sample varieties of bitter ale and more potent beverages like Ponchoo Punch. It is a pageant of worlds, some civilized, some wild, some hospitable to strangers, some less welcoming to the traveler's knock. Along the way, a villain is tracked and captured. The pilgrims squabble and debate, eventually departing to fulfil their destinies. The showman Moncrief and his troupe of Mouse-riders perform remarkably then move on. And, in time, Dame Hester is reencountered, as well as the girl, Tibbet, to whom Myron had plighted his callow troth.

Among the Vanceans who cluster in certain nodes of the Internet, early readers of Lurulu have voiced queries as to the even, almost placid, tone of the tale. Opportunities for perilous adventures across wild planetscapes or for outbreaks of derring-do in the rescue of maidens or thwarting of swindlers are lightly passed over. When all is said and done, there is much more saying than doing, a great deal of it taking place in port directors' offices or in the saloon of the Glicca. But Myron Tany, though ill used by Dame Hester and her paramour, is no Kirth Gersen out to undo a handful of Demon Princes. He is that other kind of Vancean protagonist, a young man out to find his place in the worlds, his lurulu. And so he does, learning an occasional bittersweet lesson along the way.

I never counsel readers to seek to analyze an author from his works, but I think to see in this (possibly last, though I hope not) novel from Jack Vance a summing up of a life lived. I believe that Lurulu offers an old man's truth that is no less profound for being simple: that life is a voyage whose significance is not to be found in the arrival but in the journeying. Myron and his shipmates find that their hearts' desire is not some far-off planet to be located through star charts or a close reading of the oft quoted Handbook of the Planets. Nor is it some abstruse state of being to be achieved in the course of a painful pilgrimage over sharp flints and around the rim of an angry volcano.

Instead, lurulu is here and now, in the warmth of friendship, in shared encounters with the vast and multifarious throng of humanity strewn across ten thousand worlds, each with its signature brews of hearty ales and each with its sunsets painted from a unique palette of vermilion and amber, magenta and old gold. So the tale is not about a beginning, a middle and an end, strung along a definable arc of character. Instead it is a celebration of life in the living, and an urging to grasp this fleeting moment and know it to the full.

So, Lurulu offers not story, but wisdom, lovingly wrapped in the distinctive, ironic voice of Jack Vance, which alone is worth the price of admission.

Copyright © 2005 Matthew Hughes

Matthew Hughes
Matthew Hughes writes science fantasy. His stories have appeared in Asimov's, F&SF, Postscripts and Interzone. His novels are Fools Errant, Fool Me Twice, Black Brillion, and Majestrum. The first chapter of his new novel, The Spiral Labyrinth: A Tale of Henghis Hapthorn (Night Shade Books, September 2007), is on his web page is at http://www.archonate.com/spiral-labyrinth.


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